From Zero to Ultra

Although humans no longer need to run for basic survival, cardiovascular exercise still helps us to reduce our risk of chronic disease and offers many other preventive benefits as well. A heel strike during a running stride, however, produces at least four times the force your body creates when walking. Imagine how adding a few thousand more heel strikes will affect your body if it is unaccustomed to that kind of stress.

If you want to create a healthy running habit rather than run down the path toward an overuse injury, let the following ideas help you get started or train for your goal distance. Training the right way may take longer, but you'll minimize injuries and other setbacks.

Remember that resistance training and flexibility are absolutely critical. Our joints depend on a balanced and toned musculature to guide them through the thousands of strides we take every mile we travel. Be sure to incorporate more than just running into your running.

Joint stability does not come from running. In fact, running reduces your flexibility in order to lower the energy cost. The trouble is, excessive reduction in flexibility leads to overuse injuries. A moderate regimen of weight training and yoga (or regular stretching sessions) will allow you body to absorb shock and disperse it across your body.

Your joints will remodel and adapt to applied stress only if you don’t overload your training. When you add a mile, remember you are adding a few thousand steps that are each at least four times your body weight. Add distance gradually; doubling what you ran yesterday just because you felt like it is a recipe for joint damage.

If you are a beginning runner or want to increase your mileage, try intervals. For example, run for 20 seconds every three minutes. If you feel fine the next day, try 40 seconds every three minutes. Over several weeks, continue with modest increases until you reach five minutes of running.

Only increase your overall training load by 5% per week. For example, if you are running 30 miles per week, a mile and a half is a safe distance to increase next week's run.

Beginning to run, or increasing mileage, boosts your resting metabolic rate. Although this is desirable for many people, it is important to understand that you burn many more calories in the 24 hours after you run than you would have if you did not run. Many runners actually end up robbing their bodies of muscle and bone mass to feed their revved-up metabolic engines. So eat already.

Steve Conant, MS, HFS, CSCS provides metabolic and cardiovascular testing at his office at The Club in Bozeman. Conant also provides programming and instruction to help athletes excel at what they love to do.